After the happily ever

How long is the ‘after’, in ‘happily ever’? A lifetime? A decade? A year? A week?

We all want to live happily ever after, but is it possible in real life? Do fairy tales—and romantic novels—end where they do because dealing with what happens next is rarely straightforward? After all, haven’t you ever convinced yourself that if you could only pass this exam…have a date with that guy/girl…get that job…achieve your lifetime-ambition you’ve never be dissatisfied again?

But if you are in the fortunate position of achieving your lifetime ambition—what comes after? I have a vested interest in this question, but first, let’s take a closer look at other literary takes on this.

Historically, literature is full of moralistic tales warning us to be careful what we wish for. As a child I read the short story by WW Jacobs, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ one November night, and was too scared to send a letter to Santa Claus that year. Written in 1906, it’s a little old-fashioned perhaps, to modern eyes, but I dare you to read on a dark and stormy night when you’re on your own…

More recently David Hare’s play, Plenty—which was made into an excellent film with Meryl Streep—deals with what happens ‘after’. The heroine is Susan Traherne, a secret agent who risks her life on an hourly basis working behind the lines in Nazi-occupied France. Once the war has been won, it’s not only Hitler who is defeated; she fails to deal with life in peacetime. A great play and film—if a tad on the depressing side.

Good old Oscar Wilde and/or George Bernard Shaw (take your pick, these arch enemies fought over the same sentiment and similar words) summarised it most succinctly.

‘There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it.’

There must be a quote by the Bard. I challenge you to find it.

So do you think it’s true? Let me play the devil’s advocate for a while longer.

Take the Olympics. I loved every minute of them. The joy, the despair—watching it was so exhausting. I needed to take a holiday afterwards to recover. I couldn’t help wondering though, a month or so down the line what will happen to those athletes who went home swinging a gold medal? Dame Beccy was the golden girl after Beijing. She chose not to hang up her cap but to slog on with the grinding training and constantly wet hair for another four years. Result—two bronzes. Do we love and praise her for it? Dame Kelly was smarter. Two golds and out.

But after their tearful/emotional/joyful podium moment(s), what are the gold medallists of 2012 going to do next? Can they ALL become sports commentators?

Okay, I hear you saying. You’re struggling to pay the gas bill, get the car repaired, keep your job. You’d love a few of their problems. (So would I to be honest!)

Yet would you really want to know that you’ve experienced the high point of your life before you’re even 20? After all, from the 10m diving board, there’s only one way to go, no matter how many somersaults and tucks you manage on the downward journey. (Tom, let me tell you now, the highs are yet to come. We’ve got to see that smile again. And those tiny trunks.)

Do you think it’s easier for those who didn’t succeed, and who are already working towards Rio?

So why am I intrigued by this question? No, I haven’t won the lottery (or a gold medal). I’m speaking as someone who’s about to achieve their lifetime ambition—to be a published novelist. Am I anxious about how I will cope and what I will do next?

You must be joking. I’m already writing the sequel. I can’t wait for Tainted Innocence to be published by Carina Press on 17 September. I think I’m mature enough to deal with the celebrity status that might ensue. I only hope that overnight success (which has been a trifle tardy in my case) doesn’t mean it only lasts a night.

But then, as a romantic novelist, I believe in happy endings, even if I throw a murder or two in on the way.

Besides, I do have another ambition, that could be a little more tricky to achieve. (Andy, you will know what I mean!) I’d love to walk out onto the green grass of Centre Court. And if I ever do, I won’t forget to look back and up over the entrance and remind myself of that other cliché, which like all clichés, tends to hide the truth in its mundane familiarity.

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same.

Perhaps that’s how we really do live happily ever after.

(PS In case anybody out there is listening, I’d just like to clarify that another of my lifetime ambitions is to be a Wimbledon tennis commentator…)

Joss Alexander’s novel, Tainted Innocence, will be published by Carina Press on September 17. It will be available on the Carina Press website, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

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